two styles of writing: a close reading

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two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by grapesmoker » Tue Apr 21, 2015 11:30 am

The recent discussion of difficulty at Nationals has prompted me to try and pin down a certain difference of style of writing and playing that, at least for me, accounts for at least a partial discrepancy in perceived difficulty. I fully admit that this is in large part an exploration of my own subjective playing and writing experience; at the same time, I would claim that there is some objective difference in ways that a question can be written that contribute to or detract from the difficulty of playing it. Which style you prefer might dictate how you perceived this weekend's event.

Before I launch into my thesis, I want to offer up a sort of taxonomy of knowledge that I think better reflects what people know than the taxonomy that Ryan outlined in that Nationals discussion thread. I'm going to split quizbowl knowledge into roughly two somewhat overlapping but sufficiently distinct categories, which I will call "direct" knowledge and "inferential" knowledge. Direct knowledge is immediate knowledge of a given fact, which you either have or do not have, e.g. that Ernest Hemingway's only play is called The Fifth Column, or that the First World War was ended by the Treaty of Versailles. Inferential knowledge is more tricky: it's knowledge obtained from circumstantial evidence or other pieces of knowledge, leading to an indirect conclusion about what is being asked for. For example, in a tossup about J.L. Austin, you might not literally know every clue, or even any specific clue, especially in questions that backload titles. But you might be generally familiar with the sort of thing that Austin was interested in; certain marker terms (e.g. "sense data") might not necessarily be 100% dispositive of "Austin" as the answer, but they point at a specific constellation of facts: 20th century philosopher, concerned with mind, concerned with language, known for a light and humorous style, etc. This doesn't mean that you're always going to be right when buzzing with "Austin" on that constellation of facts, but it can be a powerful intuition in guiding anticipation of future clues. What we call "transparency" is a sort of exaggerated version of this: in many cases, some constellation of things like "20th century Hungarian composer" usually means "Bartok," even if occasionally it can mean "Lygeti."

If this sounds a lot like the "Yaphe method" of quizbowl, that's because it is. The following bias is freely admitted: I made my living as a player repeatedly solving the riddle of questions by narrowing down the world of possible answers, so as a result I am deeply sympathetic to this method of playing. So sympathetic that when I write questions, I write them so as to, ideally, offer maximum possibility for this kind of reasoning. Obviously this does not mean ignoring direct knowledge, but it does mean using certain information to clue people in to what's happening in the question. To illustrate the difference between these two styles of writing, I want to present the following two tossups. The first tossup is from this year's tournament and I assume was written by Ryan, while the second is from 2011 ACF Nationals and was written by me. I picked these two questions because they conveniently happen to both be really hard tossups on basically the same historical topic, namely, Cromwellian England.
2015 ACF Nationals wrote:An extreme faction of this group, including men such as David Hackston and Donald Cargill, published a pamphlet called the Informatory Vindication. Their numbers included the teenager Margaret Wilson, who became one of the “Wigtown Martyrs” after she and an elderly woman also named Margaret were put to death by drowning. A faction of this movement known as the “Society Men” issued the Sanquhar Declaration, under the leadership of Richard Cameron and later James Renwick. Robert Woodrow coined the term for a period of suffering undergone by members of this group who refused to take the Oath of Abjuration, or were accused of participating in the rebellion at Bothwell Bridge. That period of their suffering is called the “killing time.” Another leader of this movement, Alexander Henderson, wrote a document which allied this group with Parliament during the English Civil War. For 10 points, name this group of Scottish Presbyterians who agreed to form a “Solemn League” in 1643, and were named for the pact in which they pledged to uphold their religion.

ANSWER: Covenanters [prompt on “Scottish Presbyterians”]
Let's walk through this question and consider the information provided. The first sentence names two Convenanters and a pamphlet they published. Unless you are Jeff Hoppes, you don't know this, and that's fine; that's why it's the first clue. The second tells you about two "Wigtown Martyrs" named Margaret. Again, unless you know specifically who the Wigtown Martyrs are, you cannot buzz there, which is fine, but you also cannot in any way determine either the time period or the geographical location of the group in question. At best, you know that this is some Anglophone nation, and death by drowning might indicate an earlier time period, but it's hard to be sure. The same is true about the next clue: either you know the Sanquhar Declaration and the names of the leaders of the "Society Men," or you don't. You still have no idea where or when you are. It's only at the point where you reach the phrase "Oath of Abjuration" that you might be getting some hint that this somehow involves the English throne, but still that's hardly enough; without knowing that exact term, you have no hope of being sure, since the question doesn't tell you anything about what the Oath of Abjuration actually contains. Perhaps Bothwell Bridge might mean "Scotland" to you, but it's still a pretty hard pull. We're now 3/4 of the way to the end of the question and unless you have deep specific knowledge of any of the things mentioned, you can't be sure where or when any of this is taking place until the question just straight up tells you that this group was prominent during the Civil War. Then the "Solemn League" clue is supposed to get you to fill in the blank and say "Covenant."

Now, here's a question from ACF Nationals 2011 that I wrote:
2011 ACF Nationals wrote:The 27th article of this document provided for the raising of revenue to maintain a force of 10,000 horse and dragoons and 20,000 infantry, while its second article provided for the formation of a council comprising between 13 and 21 individuals. Lord Chief Justice Henry Rolle resigned due to doubts regarding the legality of this document, which was adopted following a legislative body’s breakup over the question of whether patrons would be allowed to appoint clergymen to livings. According to this document’s 32nd article, the executive office it created would be elective rather than hereditary. Eventually superseded by a document drafted by Lord Broghill, Edward Montagu, and Oliver St. John, among others, the Humble Petition and Advice, this document was adopted by the Council of Officers upon the dissolution of the Nominated Assembly, also called Barebones’ Parliament. Written by John Lambert, for ten points, identify this document which vested executive power in a Lord Protector and was effectively the constitution of England during the early reign of Oliver Cromwell.

ANSWER: Instrument of Government
Again, walking through this question. The first clue here tells you that this is some kind of document with multiple articles, one of which provides for the raising of revenue to field an army. The significant terms here are "dragoons" and "infantry." You don't know anything about the specific provisions of the Instrument of Government, but already it seems likely that we're talking about some sort of executive document (as opposed to a treaty) and that the time period is, roughly, sometime between the 17th and 18th centuries, when dragoons would have been a relevant military force. You also probably don't know who Henry Rolle is, but the words "Lord Chief Justice" likely mean that you are in England; the rest of the clue indicates that this document also addressed religious disputes, which should further narrow down the possibility of time frame. Already you can reasonably infer, without knowing the specific facts, that we are in England, likely somewhere in the 17th or early 18th century. The next clue tells you that this document created an important executive office; how many documents do we know from this era and place that created such offices? Obviously this is an oblique hint at the office of the Lord Protector. The next clue tells you the name of a document that superseded the one we're looking for, and that's relevant too, not just for the name itself but for the style of name: not many things in the 18th century have names like "Humble Petition and Advice," so you can pretty reasonably eliminate that time period and focus on 17th century England. Then you get Barebones Parliament, which should cement "English Civil War" in your mind, then John Lambert, the author, and finally the last two clues are "Lord Protector" and "constitution under Cromwell" which are just direct pieces of knowledge.

Now, let me be clear about what I'm not claiming: I'm not saying that the second question is easy, by any means. It is not: it's a really hard tossup on a pretty obscure thing and only a few teams are realistically going to convert it. What I do claim is that for the teams that have a shot at this question, its structure and style provides more chances for them to answer it before the giveaway than the first question does. Ryan's tossup is just a straightforward list of facts that you either know or do not know, but there's almost no way to use the information in the question to narrow down the possibilities. My question also contains a ton of facts, but the facts are arranged and cued in such a way that you can use them to successfully narrow down the range of possibilities and infer the correct answer even without knowing all the specific facts about it.

It's going to be unsurprising that I claim the second form of writing is more "friendly" to players than the first. It provides more opportunities to understand and figure out just what the question is about. Applied to easier answer lines, this method of writing is going to result in more earlier buzzes by people who are good at understanding contextual clues and using them to eliminate possible answer options. Of course, not all questions are amenable to this kind of treatment; sometimes a lit tossup is just a list of plot points, and that's fine. But when possible, I always try to structure my questions in such a way that the information guides players towards the answer without them necessarily having all the facts in hand.

Which of these writing and playing styles you prefer is going to depend heavily on what you're good at. Certainly all players really use a combination of the two: inference, after all, requires a deep knowledge base from which to infer. At the same time, I selfishly believe that the latter style of writing rewards paying careful attention to the context of the question, while placing less emphasis on amassing a large collection of facts that might not contain any genuinely useful information for players. Obviously, these are idealized poles and any real question is going to contain some mix of the two strategy, but my personal ideological commitment is to the latter style insofar as it is possible over the former.

I think the discrepancy between these two styles accounts for a lot of the difference in difficulty perception. For someone like me, the former question would be incredibly painful to play because it would be impossible to figure out what the hell was going on, and the question would likely run to the end; I hate questions like that, which is what drives my opposition to science questions that are just lists of eponymous terms. I would imagine that for someone like Ryan, the latter question would be less annoying (it still, obviously, contains facts), but would lend itself to being "solved" by someone who did not possess the discrete pieces of knowledge necessary to do the one-to-one mapping from facts to answers. Maybe that produces a more irritating playing experience because you stand the risk of getting beaten by a clever inferer; it also definitely requires a lot more thinking and active engagement during questions than just listening for a key term, and that can be exhausting and lead you to think that a question is more difficult.

I hope this exposition is illuminating to people. I do believe that the latter style is better than the former, but I don't think either is wrong. It's just that depending on how you are used to playing and what kind of questions you are used to hearing or what kind of style you prefer, you might perceive some questions as being more difficult than others.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Banned Tiny Toon Adventures Episode » Tue Apr 21, 2015 11:33 am

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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Rufous-capped Thornbill » Tue Apr 21, 2015 12:50 pm

Thank you for posting this, Jerry. Not only does it provide a more nuanced analysis of the topics being discussed in the Nats discussion thread, but I think it will remind readers (certainly me) that good tournaments require good questions, and good questions take both time and a questioning of just what, exactly, the playing experience of the tossup 'you' just wrote will be.

I believe this discussion can be expanded with an eye towards the future a bit. Both Jerry's post above and Ike's first post in the Nats discussion bring to light the facet that tournaments such as ACF Nationals can only attain the legitimacy and high quality we desire from them thanks to careful, thoughtful and extremely hard working editors. While it had been proved, time and time again, that a single or small group of editors are capable of putting in hundreds of hours of work and come out with a high quality set, I don't see that setup as an ideal one. Burnout is very real, and we as a community shouldn't come to rely too much on folks like the Nats editors to devote half a year of every year to editing. I think, as a community, that we need a much larger pool of editors, as well as a way to keep sets consistent despite a larger number of people working on them, which strikes me as the biggest issue with sets produced my more than 2-5 editors.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Tue Apr 21, 2015 1:12 pm

I'll align myself with Jerry on this one. At least some of the history tossups at this tournament seemed to be lists of people or documents associated with this event/person/polity/movement, and if you didn't know them, then you would be participating in a buzzer race on a clue 2/3rds of the way into the tossup. That's a muddy battlefield on which a rag-tag band of Scots might be able to defeat a well-drilled New Model Army.

EDIT: also this probably belongs in the ACF Nats Discussion thread itself but it seems that at least some of tossups that we're all complaining about were submissions
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Auks Ran Ova » Tue Apr 21, 2015 1:19 pm

Skepticism and Animal Feed wrote:EDIT: also this probably belongs in the ACF Nats Discussion thread itself but it seems that at least some of tossups that we're all complaining about were submissions
I think everyone who edits a packet-sub nationals or open tournament will sooner or later come across the phenomenon of people who complain about questions being very hard at a tournament to which they themselves submitted very hard questions. It's rarely worth calling people out specifically for but it's something to keep in mind on both sides of the discussion.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Ike » Tue Apr 21, 2015 1:57 pm

I agree with the use of context - I'm going to be honest, Westbrook may have produced questions in style 1, but I think he also produced many questions in style 2 - the Tenrikyo tossup comes to mind.

I strive to produce questions of type 2 all the time - but I may have been a bit off the mark. Naturally for something like computer science, which I already know, it's kind of easy to make the questions like this, but if you're not an expert in the topic, it's super hard to do this. I have never taken an astronomy class but I wrote that orbits question and saw Austin Brownlow buzz on the first clue. How long do you guys think it took me to learn enough about orbits to describe them, and then finally find clues that people had a potential of knowing? Hint: _very long_ (prompt on _long_).
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Tue Apr 21, 2015 2:03 pm

Ike wrote:How long do you guys think it took me to learn enough about orbits to describe them, and then finally find clues that people had a potential of knowing? Hint: _very long_ (prompt on _long_).
It would take you a... long-period
#instantrimshot
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Jem Casey » Tue Apr 21, 2015 2:50 pm

Perhaps I've been misinformed, but I thought the primary purpose of quizbowl questions was to reward people for actually knowing things. It's not as if players who use the sort of basic reasoning that Jerry described in order to determine the answer's time and place have a patently better understanding of history than those players who buzz only when they recognize a fact they know. They just have a different playing style, one which can be, but doesn't need to be, rewarded. Perhaps the clues in that particular Covenanters tossup are boring, trivial, or excessively difficult, but that's an entirely different matter; there is no reason to characterize all clues that don't lend themselves to a lateral thinking approach as illegitimate or inferior to those which do. For instance, if I recall correctly, the second clue of the "Argos" tossup at ACF Nationals referenced the massacre of Argive troops in a sacred grove following the Battle of Sepeia. This memorable episode is of tremendous interest to scholars investigating the laws of war in ancient Greece, but its mention provides little help to players seeking to significantly reduce the tossup's answer-space. Are writers who painstakingly fill their tossups with excellent clues like this one to be chastised for "listing facts" and constructing "contextless" questions? I certainly hope not.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by grapesmoker » Tue Apr 21, 2015 2:56 pm

Jem Casey wrote:Perhaps I've been misinformed, but I thought the primary purpose of quizbowl questions was to reward people for actually knowing things. It's not as if players who use the sort of basic reasoning that Jerry described in order to determine the answer's time and place have a patently better understanding of history than those players who buzz only when they recognize a fact they know. They just have a different playing style, one which can be, but doesn't need to be, rewarded. Perhaps the clues in that particular Covenanters tossup are boring, trivial, or excessively difficult, but that's an entirely different matter; there is no reason to characterize all clues that don't lend themselves to a lateral thinking approach as illegitimate or inferior to those which do. For instance, if I recall correctly, the second clue of the "Argos" tossup at ACF Nationals referenced the massacre of Argive troops in a sacred grove following the Battle of Sepeia. This memorable episode is of tremendous interest to scholars investigating the laws of war in ancient Greece, but its mention provides little help to players seeking to significantly reduce the tossup's answer-space. Are writers who painstakingly fill their tossups with excellent clues like this one to be chastised for "listing facts" and constructing "contextless" questions? I certainly hope not.
As I said in my initial post, I specifically did not characterize the "direct knowledge" style as wrong; it's just as legitimate as my preferred approach, and indeed, I myself have written plenty of questions that are more of that style, just because the subject matter lent itself more to it. I think that the use of contextual information to allow lateral inference is a good thing, but I think I'm being careful here not to universalize my preference. My goal was only partly to advocate for my favored approach; it was also to point out what the actual distinctions are and to try and understand why people react in certain ways to different writing styles.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by vinteuil » Tue Apr 21, 2015 3:02 pm

Jem Casey wrote:Perhaps I've been misinformed, but I thought the primary purpose of quizbowl questions was to reward people for actually knowing things. It's not as if players who use the sort of basic reasoning that Jerry described in order to determine the answer's time and place have a patently better understanding of history than those players who buzz only when they recognize a fact they know. They just have a different playing style, one which can be, but doesn't need to be, rewarded. Perhaps the clues in that particular Covenanters tossup are boring, trivial, or excessively difficult, but that's an entirely different matter; there is no reason to characterize all clues that don't lend themselves to a lateral thinking approach as illegitimate or inferior to those which do. For instance, if I recall correctly, the second clue of the "Argos" tossup at ACF Nationals referenced the massacre of Argive troops in a sacred grove following the Battle of Sepeia. This memorable episode is of tremendous interest to scholars investigating the laws of war in ancient Greece, but its mention provides little help to players seeking to significantly reduce the tossup's answer-space. Are writers who painstakingly fill their tossups with excellent clues like this one to be chastised for "listing facts" and constructing "contextless" questions? I certainly hope not.
Jordan, I think you do a great job of writing heavily "fact-based" questions that still provide enough context to be "informative" in a broader sense, i.e. helping players understand why they might care about the clues. I think that's a decent part of the appeal of the Jerry-style questions, and a big part of what he's defending.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Cheynem » Tue Apr 21, 2015 3:06 pm

I think my questions (which ironically are disliked by both Jerry and Ryan, usually!) tend to try to split the difference in that my early clues tend to eschew "importance" for memorable, concrete, buzzable anecdotes (what I mean by this, lest i be misinterpreted, is that a typical lead-in in one of my questions does not really spell out why a person or incident or event is important, but it is a concrete, hopefully quite memorable clue), but as the question goes on, I try and explain, certainly by the end, why something is significant/is remembered today. Occasionally I think this results in kind of jarring cliffs, of course.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Important Bird Area » Tue Apr 21, 2015 3:07 pm

grapesmoker wrote:The first sentence names two Covenanters and a pamphlet they published. Unless you are Jeff Hoppes, you don't know this, and that's fine; that's why it's the first clue.
I didn't know this either (had I been playing this question, I would not have buzzed until "Wigtown Martyrs").

I'll have more to say about Jerry's tossup in another thread.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by grapesmoker » Tue Apr 21, 2015 3:10 pm

bird bird bird bird bird wrote: I'll have more to say about Jerry's tossup in another thread.
It's ok, Jeff, you can tell me how terrible my question is in this thread! I won't be offended.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by The King's Flight to the Scots » Tue Apr 21, 2015 8:49 pm

Hey, so, here's a post from 2010 that really shaped the development of my writing style.
Chris Ray, in 2010 wrote: A lot of the tossups I personally wrote for this tournament (Funeral Oration, Nuremberg Rallies, Ali, the Poor Law) reflect my view for how history tossups should be written. I've argued in military history debates that the reason people dislike military history tossups is because they're often written poorly, with clues that reward neither awareness of the narrative nor scholarly work on the battle (short of remembering "random landmark X"). The counter-action I see some questions employ, to shy away from naming important things and deliberately avoid saying important people or geographic placenames for fear of rewarding nefarious "frauders," are even more problematic.

The goal in all of these questions were to reward the study of history, through primary source reading, detailed study of famous subjects like the growth of Nazi Germany or the Sunni-Shi'a split, or awareness of the causes of broader social change like poverty in Great Britain. These questions reward people who really try to study their subject matter (though not necessarily in an academic setting), and you can't do that by withholding key terms or spending 80% of the question talking about the 4th-12th most important battles of the Great Northern War. Perhaps more controversially, I'll assert that you can't really do that with tossups on things like the Kappel Wars (like Nats last year) - you don't need 8 lines for these things anyway, make the tossup on Switzerland and reward things that more than 10 people spend serious time studying.
I read this as a parallel argument to Jerry's, especially the part about the importance of rewarding knowledge of the larger "narrative." I don't have much to add to it, except that I really like Jerry's description of how context clues work, and I think this post is similarly enlightening.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Tue Apr 21, 2015 9:19 pm

As a history player, I don't really have a preference for either approach on easier subject matter, since you can reasonably expect people to know a bunch of simple facts, anecdotes, etc. for questions such as those. For harder subject matter, however, I don't really think it makes sense to load up on insane numbers of hard facts because frankly you're not actually going to help very many people with these clues, and prefer the context-giving approach Jerry advocates. I have a similar playstyle to Jerry, at least when it comes to history questions, and I think rewarding people who understand context is important. I tried to capture this in this question I submitted to this year's nationals:
Dartmouth A's submission wrote:This leader, whose propaganda frequently styled him as “First Peasant” and “First Worker,” strangely promoted the teaching of folk and highland dialects in elementary schools. This non-German leader’s government used a golden double axe as the symbol of its official youth group and proclaimed the advent of the third version of his country’s civilization. Unusually, this leader’s regime was very tolerant of Jews, even though they were formally banned from participating in its National Youth Organization, the EON. An October 28th holiday celebrates a famous rebuke by this man, in which he supposedly said “Okhi,” or “No,” to an Italian order to station troops in his country, prompting an invasion from Italian troops stationed in Albania. This man died and was succeeded by Alexandros Koryzis a few months before his country’s Axis-defiance provoked a German invasion in 1941. For 10 points, name this Greek general who, after a self-coup in 1936, ruled as the leader of the fascist 4th of August Regime.
ANSWER: Ioannis Metaxas
I wrote this question not knowing a ton about Metaxas except the last two lines of material, but wanting to learn more about him and gain contextual understanding of modern Greek history (especially in light of the country's long-brewing recent crises). The clues I picked were designed to first clue people who are reasonably informed about history about what KIND of leader we are talking about ("a probably authoritarian, probably European leader with lots of populist propaganda" would be a reasonable reading of the first clues, even if you don't know the hard facts). Then, with some knowledge, you can reasonably narrow it down to a modern European leader (tolerance of Jews plus preceding clues) and then one in the Balkans (from Italian invasion) and finally to a Greek leader (Koryzis - if your language knowledge is decent). It's still a hard answer but someone who is generally informed gets to beat out someone who only knows "Fourth of August Regime."

I chose a lot of the "hard facts" to reward other contextual knowledge as well (as opposed to lists of names) - if you know that a lot of golden double-axes have been found in Minoan archaeological sites, for example, you get a much better idea of what is going on (Metaxas, like a lot of fascists, was pretty obsessed with ancient civilizations) and I don't think that's a problem because that takes some deep knowledge to know.

I'm going to try my best to emulate this sort of writing style (which I think I share with Jordan Brownstein) in SHEIKH, though as Jerry said, the same treatment isn't appropriate for all subjects and nobody should ever reasonably expect an entire tournament to be monolithic in style.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Quantum Mushroom Billiard Hat » Tue Apr 21, 2015 10:11 pm

Jerry, thanks for posting this.

I tend to prefer prefer Jerry's view on question style, but I do want to point out that questions need a balance between the concrete, named clues and the explanatory puzzle-piece type clues. I think Ryan made a comment in the main ACF Nationals discussion thread about how some literature questions push all the titles by an author to the end of the question, even if those titles are extremely hard, to avoid giving people points for people who only memorize titles. For an even more extreme example, I'll post a tossup I wrote for Lederberg 2 last year where I deliberately avoided naming any reactions whatsoever. I was curious to see how this type of question would play. I would claim that every clue starting with the sentence where power ends could give you a decent chance of guessing the answer even without prior knowledge of the reaction described, and the previous clue narrows down the options by quite a bit.
5. This functionality can be used as a stereoselective directing group when using diiodomethane and zinc to form a cyclopropane ring from an alkene. Ketones are enantioselectively converted into a compound of this type using borane and a chiral ox-aza-boro-li-dine catalyst. Tartrates can be used to control stereochemistry when reacting allylic compounds of this type with tert-butyl hydroperoxide and a titanium catalyst to form epoxides with this functionality. An allylic compound of this type can be produced by reacting stoichiometric quantities of an alkene and an (*) aldehyde under high temperature, acidic conditions. These compounds are formed stereoselectively if hydrogen peroxide is used immediately after a hydroboration reaction. Under acidic conditions a carbonyl group can react with a molecule of this type to form a hemiacetal, and a molecule of this type can also react with an alkyl halide to make an ether. For 10 points, name this type of compound which can react with
a carboxylic acid to form an ester.
ANSWER: alcohol [or hydroxyl or R-OH. Note: referenced reactions include Simmons-Smith, Corey-BakshiShibata, Sharpless epoxidation, Prins, Williamson ether synthesis, and Fischer esterification]
I think there is a place for questions like this that lack clearly-named reference points in places like a side tournament, but this question would not be a good idea in most contexts. Quiz bowl is inherently based on remembering names of things, and for that matter, so are most conversations outside of quiz bowl too (conversations about "that actor" from "that movie where the building gets blown up" get frustrating really fast). In general keeping those names as concrete clues is important, and I think Jerry's example does a good job of that.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by theMoMA » Tue Apr 21, 2015 10:25 pm

There is certainly something to be said for providing context in questions, and I won't argue against it. But I think Jerry is somewhat unfair to Ryan's style. For example, in the question cited above, there are lots of English names and the phrase "Wigtown Martyrs." I did not read this particular question at the tournament (perhaps it was during my staffing bye), and before my eye jumped to the answer when I was scanning the page, my brain was throwing out potential answers like Muggletonians, Quakers, Fifth Monarchists, etc., because it sure seemed like a tossup on a group of English religious/political dissenters from the Golden Age of Dissenting. And it was! (Well, they were Scottish, but you get the point.) If you've been around this game, you can draw pretty darn solid inferences from pretty much any set of two or three clues.

I wouldn't want to see people believing that context is so important that it needs to be baked into every question as the dominant flavor. It can actually be quite frustrating when the first few questions of a supposedly difficult tossup reveal that the answer is a person who was a staunch French critic of Napoleon, a Greek person alive at the time of Darius the Great, a composer who worked with a prominent member of Les Six, or what have you, because it narrows down the answer space so radically. The word "transparent" is so overused and misused that it means very little, but this is the sort of feeling that it was born of, and I wouldn't want to see questions like this make a comeback simply because people were trying to ride the contextual wave.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Lagotto Romagnolo » Wed Apr 22, 2015 11:17 am

Quantum Mushroom Billiard Hat wrote: I think there is a place for questions like this that lack clearly-named reference points in places like a side tournament, but this question would not be a good idea in most contexts. Quiz bowl is inherently based on remembering names of things, and for that matter, so are most conversations outside of quiz bowl too (conversations about "that actor" from "that movie where the building gets blown up" get frustrating really fast). In general keeping those names as concrete clues is important, and I think Jerry's example does a good job of that.
It's a minor boon, but science questions are also less susceptible to linguistic fraud and the like.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Edmund » Wed Apr 22, 2015 3:01 pm

2015 ACF Nationals wrote:An extreme faction of this group, including men such as David Hackston and Donald Cargill, published a pamphlet called the Informatory Vindication. Their numbers included the teenager Margaret Wilson, who became one of the “Wigtown Martyrs” after she and an elderly woman also named Margaret were put to death by drowning. A faction of this movement known as the “Society Men” issued the Sanquhar Declaration, under the leadership of Richard Cameron and later James Renwick. Robert Woodrow coined the term for a period of suffering undergone by members of this group who refused to take the Oath of Abjuration, or were accused of participating in the rebellion at Bothwell Bridge. That period of their suffering is called the “killing time.” Another leader of this movement, Alexander Henderson, wrote a document which allied this group with Parliament during the English Civil War. For 10 points, name this group of Scottish Presbyterians who agreed to form a “Solemn League” in 1643, and were named for the pact in which they pledged to uphold their religion.

ANSWER: Covenanters [prompt on “Scottish Presbyterians”]
I read the tossup before your analysis after it, and I didn't realise until reading your analysis that this was the case that you thought only provided hard facts rather than allusion. Here's how I stepped through the same clues:

- "pamphleteering" is an inherently early modern activity and surely only in the excesses of the 17th century (or maybe early 18th) would someone publish a pamphlet with a name as ludicrous as the "Informatory Vindication"
- Donald Cargill and Margaret Wilson are both full-blown Scottish names, both forename and surname, which tends to encourage the idea we might be in Canada, the Antipodes, or the UK. If people are publishing pamphlets, it's probably the UK.
- you often have "Martyrs" in religious conflicts, not just any old disagreement. Also, Wigtown is a Scottish place I've heard of, though I bet the Nats field hadn't.
- boy-oh-boy are Cameron and Renwick Scottish-sounding names. Bothwell is a Scottish name that people will have heard of at a much lower level of difficulty.

Again I'm not suggesting these are in any way easy or transparent clues, but I would dispute the notion that this question is just a list of spatially or temporally vague proper nouns. To my reading, there are a lot of 'soft' clues here to put the player in the right direction, just like your example from Nats 2011. We get to the penultimate line and if we're culturally aware of what 17th century Britain was like, we'll know we're talking about "a political document from early modern England" in one case and "a persecuted common or religious group from early modern Scotland (maybe colonial US?)" in the other. Indeed, I think that "Informatory Vindication" is a great example of a solid, unambiguous fact that still thematically places the question.

Thematic allusion is well and good and I encourage its use. I like being able to double the value of a clue by simultaneously suggesting that "X did Y", giving a hard clue, and also "Y totally sounds like the sort of thing that X would do", giving a prompt for players to get in the right area for a later clue they might know. But if we don't expect that anyone (except Jeff) will know any of the concrete clues until the penultimate line then surely (in either case above) we shouldn't have written the tossup in the first place?

[edit to remove garbled sentence]
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Skepticism and Animal Feed » Wed Apr 22, 2015 4:14 pm

I personally had no idea that Wilson or Margaret were Scottish names (I named my cat Margaret - well, Meowgaret technically - after a British Prime Minister who as I understand is not only notably not Scottish, but is indeed hated there!), but the phenomenon that Edmund describes, known lovingly in America as "linguistic fraud", does happen, and I and many other players use it all the time, especially with fairly unique names like Janos that typically only occur within a single country. Editors should both watch out for dropping those clues in places where they allow the person to narrow the answer down to one thing through linguistic clues alone, and know that they're a tool you have in your back pocket to subtly signal "hey guys, we're in [whatever country] now" to players.

That said, mileage will vary. I reckon most American quizbowl players aren't very good at distinguishing Scottish from English names (because in America, those names are no longer tied to any particular ethnicity, especially the first names, as opposed to names from Non-English speaking countries which retain more of their exoticness), so this is different from say a tossup on the Iron Cross Party that starts by mentioning a bunch of people named Ion and Ovidu. And it will vary based on who plays - an international audience might not know that a modern American named Jebediah is almost certainly from the south.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Edmund » Wed Apr 22, 2015 4:34 pm

Probably it's not correct to call them strictly Scottish, but both have increased weighting north of the border. Off-topic, but of likely interest, is this map:

http://gbnames.publicprofiler.org/Map.a ... &type=name

There's not the specificity in this case to make it an issue of "linguistic fraud". The point is the obvious, boring one that the more you know about Scotland, the more likely you are to spot the thematic clues in a question about something Scottish.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Wed May 13, 2015 9:34 pm

I'm kind of sorry I didn't get around to reading this thread until now, so humor me in my mini-attempt to resurrect it.

I think Jerry does a pretty fair job of pointing out the basics of these two "styles" - and it is clear that no editor really uses just one style, but rather certain editors lean more towards one style than the other. Had I written Jerry's post, I think it would have been a very similar post, except it would have highlighted more of the advantages of the "one-to-one mapping clue style" questions instead.

It's true that the phototypical "puzzle piece" question is often frustrating to a player like me because I often felt (especially a couple of years ago) that I knew a lot of discrete factual clues about a given Answer X that could come up in the early-to-middle part of the question, but I might be beaten by a player who's better than me at making inferences from contextual clues. (sometimes I knew those discrete clues from previous packets, sometimes from writing questions previously, sometimes from reading a wiki article or masterplots or other secondary source, sometimes I knew them from having actually read all or part of the primary work in question and just having a mind that tends to memorize the discrete place names and character names and etc.)

Aesthetically, I do really like "clean" buzzes off of discrete clues, as opposed to "dirty" buzzes that come off adding up a bunch of context clues and making a sound inference (i.e. what Jerry has made his career on). But, as Jordan pointed out, I am quite careful to pull those discrete clues from a variety of relevant sources, especially when editing a very important event like Nats. As in the Argos question, I often pull the "discrete clues" out after reading through a lot of primary and secondary sources on the topic.

In fact, contrary to what many people may think, in the course of writing on any given topic...I almost always gain enough knowledge of the topic so that I'm well aware of many/most of the important contextual clues. In other words, I know damn well what those clues and pointers are...I just choose not to give you those particular clues as often as someone like Jerry probably does, especially in the early to middle parts of a question (i.e. my questions tend to sink those types of clues lower on average than a writer of the other style would - eventually, of course, I will come around to giving you the contextual clues that let you figure out the time period, etc. - as I did in that Covenanter question with the sentence that is just before FTP). But, I do think it's fair to say that I'll wait longer on average before giving you those clues - just as many people today will habitually wait longer before you giving reactions or titles, or those types of clues. (which, naturally, annoys me)

It may be true that there are more players today who try to excel at "contextual puzzle-piecing" than "one-to-one mapping" (btw, those are much better terms for the two styles than "memorization playing" - because there are a lot of ways that you can be good at one-to-one mapping; it doesn't need to be the caricature of someone who has simply performed a rote memorization of packets, or something like that). I don't think that even super hard tossups are difficult to know discrete "one-to-one clues" on - you certainly can do that if that's the type of player you are, and I've seen many examples of that while playing. I've seen a ton of stone-cold "one to one" buzzes on the fourth most important character of a super obscure book, a minor battle of a fairly obscure war, an obscure modification of an already-obscure organic chemistry reaction which has never appeared in any packet ever, and so on.

I do romanticize those kinds of stone-cold buzzes, and I do resist the game trying to move away from rewarding them. (if there is such a movement). When I write for hard events, I am sympathetic to the "career/veteran quizbowl player" who has taken actions specifically to get good at this game....and, conversely, my questions are probably less sympathetic to a player whose knowledge is less derived from a specific/direct attempt to learn "quizbowl things".

I've never made it a secret that I'm happy to reward people who expend significant time specifically to bone up their skill at playing this game (as opposed to people who really are not as interested in specifically trying to get better at quizbowl, but rather simply acquire knowledge in the course of pursuing other academic interests).



Coda: I'm not really convinced that the difference in these styles accounts for why more people "felt harder difficulty" at 2015 Nats, because I also wrote the exact same categories for 2014 Nats (and I wrote just as many questions for 2014 as for 2015 - maybe more questions in 2014, because I wrote well over 25% of the questions for that event). So, unless you can make the claim that Ike and Rob and Billy employ the first style more than Ted and Auroni and Jerry, it doesn't really explain this year's Nats (i.e. my involvement was pretty constant, so the variance is the other three, if any).
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Wed May 13, 2015 10:01 pm

Like Ryan, I also didn't get to this thread. What I was going to add was this: Edmund's post is interesting, because it reveals that often times, players have types of knowledge and thought processes that editors can't readily predict. And most of the time, that's an argument that the "one-to-one" style isn't actually as bland as it might seem (and might not actually be that different from the "attempting to put in context" style) -- as seemingly plain clues can tend to generate their own "context" for people who do have specialty knowledge of some sort and are capable of reading between the lines.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Nabonidus » Thu May 14, 2015 7:45 am

No Rules Westbrook wrote:When I write for hard events, I am sympathetic to the "career/veteran quizbowl player" who has taken actions specifically to get good at this game....and, conversely, my questions are probably less sympathetic to a player whose knowledge is less derived from a specific/direct attempt to learn "quizbowl things".

I've never made it a secret that I'm happy to reward people who expend significant time specifically to bone up their skill at playing this game (as opposed to people who really are not as interested in specifically trying to get better at quizbowl, but rather simply acquire knowledge in the course of pursuing other academic interests).
Maybe i'm just displaying my naïveté here, but isn't the whole point of "academic" trivia almost by definition to reward knowledge of things that are relevant in contemporary academia? Like, in an ideal world, what characteristics differentiate a "quizbowl thing" from a "thing learned via one's academic interests"?
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Thu May 14, 2015 8:28 am

You're not wrong, Derek, but this game isn't even close to being a perfect mirror of academia. In practice, there is usually a significant difference between regular "pursuit of academic interests" and specifically trying to get better at this game.

The most obvious thing to point out is that a lot of academia really isn't that concerned with the type of fairly discrete knowledge that answering quizbowl questions requires. In the course of your studies, you may gradually accumulate that kind of knowledge as a matter of course (i.e. if you study Chinese history, you'll no doubt acquire a good working knowledge of dynasties and battles and place names which will be useful in qb)...but the brunt of what you do in those studies is not really reflective of what's helpful in quizbowl (i.e. you spend most of your time writing and reading about the family life of peasant women or the rice production quotas in some godforsaken province).
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Thu May 14, 2015 9:36 am

No Rules Westbrook wrote:... but the brunt of what you do in those studies is not really reflective of what's helpful in quizbowl (i.e. you spend most of your time writing and reading about the family life of peasant women or the rice production quotas in some godforsaken province).
See, I think this is why this sort of discussion gets so heated, because what's ostensibly a conversation about writing styles and content in questions morphs into an anguished cry on behalf of all the white dudes sadly EXCLUDED from contemporary historical scholarship by SJWs like Eric Foner.

As Ryan said earlier, possibly in the Nationals discussion thread, in practice everyone borrows from both styles. I wouldn't write seven lines of Marshall's interpretation of history followed by a giveaway because I wouldn't buzz on that if anyone else did. And it's quite possible to draw contextual clues out of lists of obscure facts, as Edmund has shown. I still think that maintaining an active prejudice against learning academic material has the effect of punishing players who know more. First of all because those peasant women and rice production quotas are, you know, actual history, and second of all because the kind of broader understanding you get by learning actual history presents many possible answers to a given concrete "buzzpoint," whereas the canon points to only one.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Nabonidus » Thu May 14, 2015 9:39 am

No Rules Westbrook wrote:You're not wrong, Derek, but this game isn't even close to being a perfect mirror of academia. In practice, there is usually a significant difference between regular "pursuit of academic interests" and specifically trying to get better at this game.

The most obvious thing to point out is that a lot of academia really isn't that concerned with the type of fairly discrete knowledge that answering quizbowl questions requires. In the course of your studies, you may gradually accumulate that kind of knowledge as a matter of course (i.e. if you study Chinese history, you'll no doubt acquire a good working knowledge of dynasties and battles and place names which will be useful in qb)...but the brunt of what you do in those studies is not really reflective of what's helpful in quizbowl (i.e. you spend most of your time writing and reading about the family life of peasant women or the rice production quotas in some godforsaken province).
But is that just an unfortunate constraint imposed by the historical lack of writers with backgrounds in actual East Asian Studies or whatever? Or is it a philosophical choice that was reasoned out at some point?

Like, I can see why you might want to favor people with more experience in the game. But isn't it just a more useful hobby the more it prepares you for any future entanglement with Chinese history as typically practiced?
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Rufous-capped Thornbill » Thu May 14, 2015 10:08 am

I would argue that the reason we ask about the Battle of Milvian Bridge instead of recent scholarship on "just how withdrawn from public life Roman elites in the 4th century were" is because it is unfair and maybe even not possible to expect enough people to have the appropriate academic background to write enough questions of that type. This applies doubly so to things like science.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Ike » Thu May 14, 2015 10:20 am

I think what Ryan is trying to say is that if you study for quizbowl he wants to reward you with points - I and presumably all reasonable editors are in agreement with this. After all, no one in quizbowl is truly an expert within their field of study - so we're writing the game for "generalists" and not experts. That being said, if you bring your academic knowledge to the table it's perfectly fine - you should still be able to answer questions - I don't think Ryan writes in such a way that discriminates against that.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Nabonidus » Thu May 14, 2015 10:30 am

Jarret - that seems to me like that sort of thing that would be used as an individual clue for common answer questions with answer lines like "patricians" (or "women's rights in China", or "the rice industry"...)

Ike - my question was not so much about whether people should be rewarded for studying as about whether studying academia should be an effective way of getting good at quiz bowl.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by grapesmoker » Thu May 14, 2015 10:59 am

Nabonidus wrote:Jarret - that seems to me like that sort of thing that would be used as an individual clue for common answer questions with answer lines like "patricians" (or "women's rights in China", or "the rice industry"...)

Ike - my question was not so much about whether people should be rewarded for studying as about whether studying academia should be an effective way of getting good at quiz bowl.
I'd say any serious engagement with the material should be rewarded. I'm not sure what "studying academia" means, but the academic setting is one way, not the only way, of obtaining knowledge about something. It just happens to be the setting that quizbowl players have the most experience with, for obvious historical reasons.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by grapesmoker » Thu May 14, 2015 11:03 am

Nabonidus wrote:Maybe i'm just displaying my naïveté here, but isn't the whole point of "academic" trivia almost by definition to reward knowledge of things that are relevant in contemporary academia? Like, in an ideal world, what characteristics differentiate a "quizbowl thing" from a "thing learned via one's academic interests"?
This isn't how I would describe it. "Relevant in contemporary academia," is too amorphous a standard and also one that would end up excluding a lot of the stuff we find interesting. As I said in my previous post, I think we should reward all kinds of intellectual engagement, whether it's part of an academic curriculum or not.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Nabonidus » Thu May 14, 2015 11:37 am

grapesmoker wrote:I'm not sure what "studying academia" means
Sorry - I typed that really fast as I was about to miss a 10:30 meeting. Pretty sure I meant to say something along the lines of "studying the sort of stuff one might expect to learn as a motivated student in whatever academic field, independent of however it's previously been treated in the quizbowl context".

Out of curiosity, is there anything specific you're thinking of when you mention interesting stuff that isn't brought up much in contemporary academics?
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Thu May 14, 2015 12:03 pm

Here's how I understand things. Quizbowl exists at sort of a "happy medium" between various types of engagement with intellectually weighty material. That's because this game wouldn't be playable unless a broad swath of people were able to answer a broad swath of questions on a broad swath of topics in varying levels of depth. That's also because the game doesn't work unless people are able to respond to unique, concrete clues with single specific answers, as that is the main consitutive feature of how the game works. So types of academic engagement which aren't based around unique concrete facts can be drawn on as inspiration for quizbowl question content, but can't be ported over wholesale if it wouldn't be compatible with what the game requires.

Because contemporary academia is in a phase of hyper-specialization, and many its norms, theses, and results do not fit into the realm of "concrete facts", we couldn't adopt it wholesale as the only source of clues. (As has been said elsewhere, we also couldn't adopt its population "distribution" wholesale either, or else we'd have a game which is 20% Communications, 15% Economics, 15% Poli Sci, etc. every packet. We also also couldn't adopt its categorization methods for subject matter, as they differ a lot from school to school, and aren't adequate for question-writing purposes due to massive overlap.)

To embellish the "rice" example a bit: a study that shows something like "from the mid-1st century to 2nd century CE in China, rice yields decreased by 32% in Shanxi but 46% in Shaanxi -- and here are the seven factors which contributed to that decrease in rice yield" is not, if merely described without modification, going to make a good quizbowl clue even if it's the most important result in its subfield. (For the sake of discussion, let's say this study was done by esteemed East Asian Studies scholar "Shmerry Shminokurov".) But there might be ways to adapt that study, if it's indeed "important", into a clue which meets the demands of the game. You could spin it into a clue for a tossup on the dynasty or timeframe the study (e.g. "An important study by Shminokurov et al. showed that declines in rice production in Shaanxi during this dynasty reinforced public lawlessness"). You could spin it into a bonus part on Shminokurov himself, or the institution to which Shminokurov belongs, if it's a hard enough tournament. You could find a way to make it a clue about "rice" itself, or "farming," or some other concept with other concrete clues. As is hopefully obvious to all, this would all involve checking at each juncture: "Are people besides me actually likely to know this?" In many cases of hyperspecialty, the answer is "no," so it requires a sort of judiciousness case by case.

We already do, quite frequently, allow for clues about works of academic scholarship which aren't themselves written in a mode of super-specific fact, e.g. the lit crit clues at the beginning of the tossup on Gertrude (from Hamlet), at ACF Nationals 2015, are about sources that make opinion-claims, but mentioning the author and a brief statement of their words or ideas is itself a way to make a concrete fact for QB purposes.

There are other sources of intellectually weighty material in existence, though. Plenty of libraries and bookstores exist where people check out books of fiction, popular press histories, etc. which aren't immediately embedded in a university-scholarship context (and plenty of people pleasure-read intellectually worthwhile stuff just because they can). There are podcasts and talks available on the Web. If the "Odd ways of learning stuff" thread is any indication, lots of references in pop culture and everyday life are enough to get some people some basic knowledge of a concrete sort.

One source of exposure to intellectually weighty material is... past packets! It's quite a flawed source if it's your only source for a litany of reasons, both for one's soul and for one's prospects as a top player. But there's nothing wrong with using a publicly-available resource like the packet archive as one tool among many to get oneself conversant with the wide array of things that could be drawn on for future packets. I grow weary of the implicit value judgment against people who do this, and can't deny that I have done my fair share of it. In fact, eventually, after hearing a clue enough times from past packets, one might internalize a fact that can't be shaken off, or look up something in another source to help oneself do so -- a process which might be called "learning things." It's for this reason that I don't believe any successful player anymore who says that their knowledge is "100 percent real" (or who accuses another player of being entirely "fake").

Pretty much all of the best players do "all of the above" -- engage academically with some real disciplines in school, read real fiction or non-fiction books outside the classroom, go over summary sources such as book reviews or online encyclopedia articles, have a working memory of old packets, develop a "canon sense" for what sorts of topics are trendy in-game at their moment -- and that's (if you don't mind the cliche) a feature, not a bug. If quizbowl is reinforcing all of those modes of learning, and opening up new ones, it's doing a lot of good in getting people to know (or retain) things they otherwise wouldn't. On a question-by-question, packet-by-packet, or tournament-by-tournament level, some instances of quizbowl-in-the-world are going to put more emphasis on specific types of engagement over others. So long as the questions are good at serving their intended purpose (see "broad swath" clause above), some amount of variation and pluralism is totally fine.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by at your pleasure » Thu May 14, 2015 1:12 pm

Nabonidus wrote:
grapesmoker wrote:I'm not sure what "studying academia" means
Sorry - I typed that really fast as I was about to miss a 10:30 meeting. Pretty sure I meant to say something along the lines of "studying the sort of stuff one might expect to learn as a motivated student in whatever academic field, independent of however it's previously been treated in the quizbowl context".

Out of curiosity, is there anything specific you're thinking of when you mention interesting stuff that isn't brought up much in contemporary academics?
Not sure what Jerry specifically had in mind, but political and military history are both obvious examples of "things a lot of people find interesting but are somewhat unfashionable in contemporary academics".
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by grapesmoker » Thu May 14, 2015 1:51 pm

at your pleasure wrote:
Nabonidus wrote:
grapesmoker wrote:I'm not sure what "studying academia" means
Sorry - I typed that really fast as I was about to miss a 10:30 meeting. Pretty sure I meant to say something along the lines of "studying the sort of stuff one might expect to learn as a motivated student in whatever academic field, independent of however it's previously been treated in the quizbowl context".

Out of curiosity, is there anything specific you're thinking of when you mention interesting stuff that isn't brought up much in contemporary academics?
Not sure what Jerry specifically had in mind, but political and military history are both obvious examples of "things a lot of people find interesting but are somewhat unfashionable in contemporary academics".
That's one good example. Another example that may be closer to what I had in mind was my much-maligned-at-the-time tossup on Tony Judt in Nats 2011. While that question may not have been optimal for that particular context, it, and things like it, are actually the kind of stuff that you encounter on a regular basis while participating in the Internet Life of the Mind, broadly understood. There's just a lot of stuff out there that you pick up on if you're the kind of person who reads book reviews of contemporary literature or goes to plays or participates in political discussions or whatever; all those things count, in my view, as legitimate intellectual engagement, and there's no reason in my mind why they should be off-limits. My perspective is that reading old packets and basing future packets on them tends to result in a kind of fossilization of the acceptable answer space. The tendency becomes to repeat old content because that's what's come up before, rather than searching for interesting new content that may not be "known" because it hasn't wormed its way into the "canon."

In parallel, I endorse most of what Matt Jackson has written above.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by No Rules Westbrook » Thu May 14, 2015 7:49 pm

Every time we have this discussion, though, 80% of the posters are wildly unrealistic about what material (and how much of that kind of material) can reasonably be worked into a quizbowl question. Certainly, we all know that lit criticism and historiography and similar topics can be worked as clues for viable answerlines.

But, someone needs to make the incredibly obvious assertion that quizbowl is a game that has certain very specific limiting constraints. Spare me the inference that, in some perfect world, we could write tossups on "the withdrawal of Roman elites from public life." We can't ever do that, and if we could, I wouldn't want to do it...and if we did, this would be a far different game.

I'm much more apt to celebrate the constraints of this game, to love this game for what it is and support the people who expend their time and effort to excel at said game...than to constantly struggle against those constraints as if they were bothersome shackles, and cast what Jackson correctly calls "implicit value judgments" on those who are not also struggling against the shackles.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by at your pleasure » Thu May 14, 2015 8:18 pm

grapesmoker wrote:
at your pleasure wrote:
Nabonidus wrote:
grapesmoker wrote:I'm not sure what "studying academia" means
Sorry - I typed that really fast as I was about to miss a 10:30 meeting. Pretty sure I meant to say something along the lines of "studying the sort of stuff one might expect to learn as a motivated student in whatever academic field, independent of however it's previously been treated in the quizbowl context".

Out of curiosity, is there anything specific you're thinking of when you mention interesting stuff that isn't brought up much in contemporary academics?
Not sure what Jerry specifically had in mind, but political and military history are both obvious examples of "things a lot of people find interesting but are somewhat unfashionable in contemporary academics".
That's one good example. Another example that may be closer to what I had in mind was my much-maligned-at-the-time tossup on Tony Judt in Nats 2011. While that question may not have been optimal for that particular context, it, and things like it, are actually the kind of stuff that you encounter on a regular basis while participating in the Internet Life of the Mind, broadly understood. There's just a lot of stuff out there that you pick up on if you're the kind of person who reads book reviews of contemporary literature or goes to plays or participates in political discussions or whatever; all those things count, in my view, as legitimate intellectual engagement, and there's no reason in my mind why they should be off-limits. My perspective is that reading old packets and basing future packets on them tends to result in a kind of fossilization of the acceptable answer space. The tendency becomes to repeat old content because that's what's come up before, rather than searching for interesting new content that may not be "known" because it hasn't wormed its way into the "canon."

In parallel, I endorse most of what Matt Jackson has written above.
What category was that question?
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Thu May 14, 2015 8:50 pm

grapesmoker wrote:Another example that may be closer to what I had in mind was my much-maligned-at-the-time tossup on Tony Judt in Nats 2011. While that question may not have been optimal for that particular context, it, and things like it, are actually the kind of stuff that you encounter on a regular basis while participating in the Internet Life of the Mind, broadly understood.
I went and read Postwar because this question happened. And it was an excellent book! For whatever it's worth: I happened to know I was reading it at about the same time as 3 or 4 other prominent players, and knew it was a good way to mine a bunch of good clues for 20th-century Euro history to stay competitive. All in all it was of great value to me both intellectually and quizbowlically, and I have no regrets about doing it.

I like it when things like that happen.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by grapesmoker » Thu May 14, 2015 8:54 pm

at your pleasure wrote:
What category was that question?
I believe it was the "other" category.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by grapesmoker » Thu May 14, 2015 9:01 pm

No Rules Westbrook wrote:Every time we have this discussion, though, 80% of the posters are wildly unrealistic about what material (and how much of that kind of material) can reasonably be worked into a quizbowl question. Certainly, we all know that lit criticism and historiography and similar topics can be worked as clues for viable answerlines.

But, someone needs to make the incredibly obvious assertion that quizbowl is a game that has certain very specific limiting constraints. Spare me the inference that, in some perfect world, we could write tossups on "the withdrawal of Roman elites from public life." We can't ever do that, and if we could, I wouldn't want to do it...and if we did, this would be a far different game.

I'm much more apt to celebrate the constraints of this game, to love this game for what it is and support the people who expend their time and effort to excel at said game...than to constantly struggle against those constraints as if they were bothersome shackles, and cast what Jackson correctly calls "implicit value judgments" on those who are not also struggling against the shackles.
This is taking us far afield from my initial point, but anyway: I think we've shown multiple times that you can write good questions on things like "plebeian secessions." Obviously answer choices are constrained by the format, but not so heavily that you can't write good, interesting questions on many different possible answers. So far as I know, no experienced writer or editor denies that the above is generally true, and obviously we've managed to produce plenty of tournaments without running afoul of these principles.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Tees-Exe Line » Fri May 15, 2015 10:43 am

No Rules Westbrook wrote:But, someone needs to make the incredibly obvious assertion that quizbowl is a game that has certain very specific limiting constraints. Spare me the inference that, in some perfect world, we could write tossups on "the withdrawal of Roman elites from public life." We can't ever do that, and if we could, I wouldn't want to do it...and if we did, this would be a far different game.
I want to repeat something Andrew Hart said in the George Oppen discussion: creativity is a function of the clues, not the answer line. It's somewhat frustrating to have these absurd answer lines waved around to satirize a critique of the clues.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by grapesmoker » Fri May 15, 2015 11:39 am

Tees-Exe Line wrote:
No Rules Westbrook wrote:But, someone needs to make the incredibly obvious assertion that quizbowl is a game that has certain very specific limiting constraints. Spare me the inference that, in some perfect world, we could write tossups on "the withdrawal of Roman elites from public life." We can't ever do that, and if we could, I wouldn't want to do it...and if we did, this would be a far different game.
I want to repeat something Andrew Hart said in the George Oppen discussion: creativity is a function of the clues, not the answer line. It's somewhat frustrating to have these absurd answer lines waved around to satirize a critique of the clues.
It's both. You can't have good questions without good clues, obviously, but I think there's a view out there that it's only clues that determine creativity, and I just don't think that's right. For example, that question on "plebeian secessions" can't be isomorphically transformed into a question about "Rome," nor should it be. There's a strong feedback effect between the answers you pick and the clues you use to write those questions.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Sima Guang Hater » Fri May 15, 2015 2:01 pm

grapesmoker wrote:It's both. You can't have good questions without good clues, obviously, but I think there's a view out there that it's only clues that determine creativity, and I just don't think that's right. For example, that question on "plebeian secessions" can't be isomorphically transformed into a question about "Rome," nor should it be. There's a strong feedback effect between the answers you pick and the clues you use to write those questions.
it is not known whether the question isomorphism problem is p or np-complete.

Seriously though, you could change the question to "one event in this polity" or something, but in some cases that's obviously not preferable.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Adventure Temple Trail » Fri May 15, 2015 2:08 pm

grapesmoker wrote:It's both. You can't have good questions without good clues, obviously, but I think there's a view out there that it's only clues that determine creativity, and I just don't think that's right. For example, that question on "plebeian secessions" can't be isomorphically transformed into a question about "Rome," nor should it be. There's a strong feedback effect between the answers you pick and the clues you use to write those questions.
I think both Jerry and Ryan are correct in their latest posts, with the main difference between them being that Ryan is much more cautious about experimenting with unconventional answer lines.

I am glad that by and large, over the past half-decade or so, quizbowl has grown out of the assumption that all answer lines must be on a named person, work title, eponymous thing ("Battle of Manzikert," "Julia olefination") or classificatory term ("ketones", say) or else be waaaay too vaaaague to ever be workable. A descriptive term like "plebeian secessions" (or "assassination of Alexander II," or "Rembrandt's self-portraits" or whatever) may not always be capitalized when it appears in sources. But it's very much "concrete" in the sense I used it before -- it's a defined set of things to which unique facts can apply, just as much as a more pinpoint event such as the Battle of Manzikert or a person like Elizabeth I. To insist that "ANSWER LINE MUST BE TITLE OR NAME" is just a misguided and over-restrictive constraint. If there's anyone seriously arguing that an answer like "plebeian secessions" is just as unworkable as an answer like "the withdrawal of Roman elites from public life in the 4th century," I think that attitude is just incorrect, is wildly overcautious, and results in much more boring question sets. (That said, I don't think there is anyone seriously arguing as such in this thread, and the attribution of such a view to Ryan or Marshall would be an uncharitable strawman.)
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Ike » Fri May 15, 2015 2:28 pm

The Quest for the Historical Mukherjesus wrote:
grapesmoker wrote:It's both. You can't have good questions without good clues, obviously, but I think there's a view out there that it's only clues that determine creativity, and I just don't think that's right. For example, that question on "plebeian secessions" can't be isomorphically transformed into a question about "Rome," nor should it be. There's a strong feedback effect between the answers you pick and the clues you use to write those questions.
it is not known whether the question isomorphism problem is p or np-complete.

Seriously though, you could change the question to "one event in this polity" or something, but in some cases that's obviously not preferable.
If you really think about it, why are we tossing up things instead letters of the alphabet? For example, all tossups on ketones can become "A functional group that begins with this letter" or questions on Rome can become "A polity that begins with this letter," etc. That will increase convertibility since at the end all chemistry tossups on the letter K can use potassium as a giveaway.

Okay, obviously, I don't think you or anyone supports this but I think it's important to keep in mind that your answer line will determine how obvious or opaque your answer is: changing a tossup on plebian secessions to Rome and saying "A group of poor people once seceded from here at Time X, another group of poor people seceded from here at time Y" doesn't really play that well because it's just obvious.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by theMoMA » Fri May 15, 2015 3:26 pm

Ike wrote:Okay, obviously, I don't think you or anyone supports this but I think it's important to keep in mind that your answer line will determine how obvious or opaque your answer is: changing a tossup on plebian secessions to Rome and saying "A group of poor people once seceded from here at Time X, another group of poor people seceded from here at time Y" doesn't really play that well because it's just obvious.
That seems untrue. There are many polities where working-class folks have risen up; the idea that tossing up the social history of "Rome" is somehow more transparent than tossing up the social history of Hungary, the Kievan Rus', Britain, Nazi Germany, the Mali Empire, or any one of the hundreds of potential poilty answer lines at a given tournament seems entirely facile to me.

In any event, here, the shortest path to a 100% concrete answer is to "plebeians." A good writer can make a tossup on "plebeians" functionally equivalent to one on "plebeian secessions," if not better. That's not to say that a tossup on "plebeian secessions" is impossible, but the journey from a convoluted answer line to a concrete one is usually not nearly as long and as arduous as the trip from "plebeian secessions" to "Rome." (Again, this is not to say that answer lines that require more than a concrete name are always bad, but if you have qualms, there is usually a way to make the question more concrete even though the clues are functionally the exact same.)
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Ike » Fri May 15, 2015 3:43 pm

theMoMA wrote:
Ike wrote:Okay, obviously, I don't think you or anyone supports this but I think it's important to keep in mind that your answer line will determine how obvious or opaque your answer is: changing a tossup on plebian secessions to Rome and saying "A group of poor people once seceded from here at Time X, another group of poor people seceded from here at time Y" doesn't really play that well because it's just obvious.
That seems untrue. There are many polities where working-class folks have risen up; the idea that tossing up the social history of "Rome" is somehow more transparent than tossing up the social history of Hungary, the Kievan Rus', Britain, Nazi Germany, the Mali Empire, or any one of the hundreds of potential poilty answer lines at a given tournament seems entirely facile to me.
I mean the point is that you would have to do a lot of hiding of names and clue obfuscation, and that's what makes it obvious. I also think it's not really the case that each of your other answers are made equal in terms of how they would be approached in quizbowl: I don't think there are that many writers who want to devote an entire question on Kievan Rus peasants, but I can definitely see a bunch of writers wanting to devote an entire question on Rome's plebian history.

All that being said, my overall point is that your answerline dictates your clue choices, how much obfuscation you have to do and how the tossup plays. By writing on Rome, the "mental barrier" to answering the question is identifying that the question is talking about Romans. By making the answer plebians, you have to identify that all of these things are plebians - which might still be a bit tricky to pull off, but probably is better idea than just Rome flat out.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by at your pleasure » Fri May 15, 2015 3:53 pm

I fail to see why "plebian secession" (a specific historical term with a well-defined meaning that seems to routinely come up in books on Roman history) is a confusing or ambiguous answer.
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Re: two styles of writing: a close reading

Post by Periplus of the Erythraean Sea » Fri May 15, 2015 3:55 pm

Ike wrote:If you really think about it, why are we tossing up things instead letters of the alphabet? For example, all tossups on ketones can become "A functional group that begins with this letter" or questions on Rome can become "A polity that begins with this letter," etc. That will increase convertibility since at the end all chemistry tossups on the letter K can use potassium as a giveaway.
This would also poses serious problems for alternative answers. Not that anybody's endorsing it, of course.
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